Italian tempers flared. Curses and damnation spewed forth in a raging torrent of biblical proportions.
The hot July Saturday that Esther and Eddie returned from their civil wedding ceremony in Vermont, neighbors of both families, from Ferry Street to the Canal, and from Havermans Avenue to the River, closed their windows -- more to shut out the mournful wailing than the burning rays of the sun.
The shame of an unconsecrated union was almost too much to bear for the Campobasso family. While Francesco fumed and railed, the women of the clan met in what can best be described as a council of elders. In Italian families, the decisions in cases like this would come from the woman, who was the heart of la famiglia; the enforcement would come from the man, who was merely the family's figurehead.
The ruling came down. Esther was forbidden to leave the Campobasso house – for any reason – for nine months. And, obviously, she was to have no outside male visitors.
Anna Caserta was summoned to the Campobasso household to confer. Her indignation at the elopement of her son and this strong-willed young woman didn't rise to the same level of contempt as in Maria Campobasso's family, but her resentment exceeded theirs. Actually, Anna was more upset over the threat of losing her youngest son's contributions to the Caserta/Case coffers – already two sons had married, and while their brides had joined them in the Liberty Street house, more of their income was diverted away from Anna.
Eddie Case had no recourse but to follow the dictates handed to him by the Campobasso family – he would have no contact with Esther until the end of April of the following year. If he wrote letters, they would be destroyed. The Campobasso phone was in the store, so a call would be futile. No matter how anxious he was to see Esther, Eddie would simply have to go on with his life without her until the matter was resolved. He would go to work, perform in plays with his brothers to benefit St. Anthony's Church and School, but he wouldn't date and he wouldn't “go out with the boys” on weekends. But, if Esther's keepers thought that Eddie's passion would die, they were wrong.
As for Esther, Eddie was the only man in her life. Now that she had known him intimately, she knew that he would wait, and be faithful. She, on the other had, had no choice. Esther was now the princess locked in the tower, and the drama of that reinforced her determination. She understood the reason for the imprisonment – the stain of carnal knowledge must be erased in the only way it could be – by time. If at the end of nine months she were still childless, then it could be argued that the family honor had not been besmirched.
Such was the strict code of the old way. For centuries, the key to the survival of the contadini of Italy was neither the state nor the church. The rulers of the fractured Italian provinces were feudal lords; even when the country was finally united in the late 1800's, the rulers were from the north and actually increased the repression of the southerners. Although individual priests might side with the peasants, church leaders made their deal with whomever was in power.
So la famiglia was all you could count on. And if the family was dishonored in anyway, extraordinary means were necessary to restore it. Esther had committed one of the worst transgressions of the old way – she had completely ignored a basic tradition, in which the family arranges the union of its children.
As so often happens in large families, there was other news that year, and not all of it was bad. Just weeks after the shame that Esther and Eddie had brought on their families, the Campobassos and Cases had a reason to smile: it was announced that Esther's older sister Rose and her husband, Eddie's older brother Joe, were finally going to have their second child.
©Copyright 2009 Frank LaPosta Visco
Next: In Chapter Eleven, a wedding, a birth, and a break with tradition.